The mere nature of relationships come with an array of dynamics. As we grow and invest time as well as energy into a relationship, we may find that we have been building a relationship built on unhealthy behaviors. One of the most common trends that we find during counseling sessions is a pattern of codependency. It is a common term you may have heard before but let's delve into what it means, what the patterns and pitfalls look like and finally ways to break its cycle.
The term codependency is commonly associated with people who are supporting or enabling individuals dealing with addiction. But that is only one of the many ways in which a relationship can exhibit signs of codependency.
In fact, any two people who are invested to the point where neither can function independently may be considered codependent. While typically there is a passive party who looks to the other for decision making and a more commanding personality who is "in charge" it is important to remember this is going to look different from situation to situation. The consistent factor is if your sense of self-worth and identity are wrapped up in another person's mood and happiness- it is an unhealthy dynamic.
Hallmark Signs of Codependency include:
Inability to make decisions within a relationship
Low self-esteem and lacking trust in yourself
Valuing the approval of others more than yourself
Constant fears of abandonment
Being dependent on the other person to your own detriment
Feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the behaviors/actions of others
Many people involved in codependent relationships benefit from therapy. Individual sessions can help the traditionally "dependent" person build self-esteem, confidence and an understanding why they are relying so much on other people for fulfillment. If both people are invested in change, couples or family therapy can help restructure the framework of their relationship.
Breaking the cycle will begin with taking accountability for your contribution to the relationship and being honest with yourself and your partner. Living a lie breeds resentment and anger but an open dialogue about your needs and desires can be the start of healing.
Creating or re-establishing ties with people outside of your codependent relationship(s) can help eliminate the feelings of isolation that often accompany these situations. External relationships have often suffered neglect so it may feel like a big task but small steps such as texting or even going the extra mile of a mailed card can go a long way in the right direction.
Reignite your passions! Pick up a hobby; whether it's continuing an old one or starting a new pursuit. This time for yourself spent doing what you love will help you feel whole without the other person.
Eliminating the codependent behavior may or may not entail saying goodbye to your partner but the goal of breaking the cycle of codependency is to ultimately see yourself as a competent and capable independent person.
Setting clear boundaries. Where does your partners needs end and yours begin? Realizing you are not responsible for anyone's happiness but your own will allow you to live in a guilt free healthy relationship.
Lastly, remember that healthy relationships are comprised of two separate identities having commonalities and differences with acceptance, respect and level of understanding. When you find yourself consumed with your significant other in a way that your own interests, happiness and mental health start to take a back seat to theirs – get help. Self-care can begin with reaching out to a mental health professional for individual therapy or group therapy to learn behavioral patterns and coping skills to change course.